By NEIL FERGUSON // Maybe it was the Portland love in the air or the fact that much of their catalogue has stood the test of time, but by the time they left the stage at Revolution Hall on Wednesday, it was clear that The Jayhawks are still very much in their prime.
There was a whole lot of Portland love in the air when seminal alt-country band The Jayhawks made their way through the Rose City for a show at Revolution Hall on Wednesday, July 20. For starters, the show was opened by local troubadour Fernando Viciconte, a respected presence in Portland and beyond who earned the coveted opening slot for much of the band’s U.S. tour. Guitarist Dan Eccles, who also plays with revered local alt-country band Richmond Fontaine, accompanied the gravelly voiced Fernando. The sparse instrumental setup lent itself to Fernando’s songs that often dwell on painful longing and the underbelly of society. While he joked more than once that he “plays children’s birthdays”, Fernando’s set was poignant, with Eccles’ desert-tinged guitar adding a subtle yet powerful electrified tenseness to each song. His style of gritty, Americana noir came through on songs off his most recent album Leave the Radio On, but the true highlight may have come at the tail end of the set with Fernando’s potent, haunting cover of the Hank Williams as Luke The Drifter gospel classic “Angel Of Death”. Nonetheless, audience seemed elated to have made it early to catch one of Portland’s finest songwriters.
After Fernando, who it was recently announced, will be inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in October, ended on a mournful note, it felt appropriate when The Jayhawks took the stage accompanied by the sound of church bells before launching right into their 1992 song “Waiting For The Sun”. Frontman Gary Louris seemed in high spirits as he tore into a guitar solo with Neil Young fervor. With an old favorite out of the way the band jumped into their new album Paging Mr. Proust with “Leaving the Monsters Behind”, a catchy power pop tune that brings to mind The Jayhawks sound of the 90’s. More Portland love was in store as Louris announced that not only had the band recorded their new album here, but touring guitarist Chet Lyster also hailed from Portland. Lyster fit right in as the newest Jayhawk, lending his guitar skills to the sunny 60’s melancholy of “Lovers of the Sun”, and injecting twangy pedal steel into “Tampa To Tulsa”. On “Big Star” – the band’s nod to the legendary power pop act – Lyster and Louris engaged each other in dueling guitar solos. This would continue later with the rollicking jam and guitar harmonies on new tune “Ace”, a sure highlight of the night.
If there was one major takeaway from the nearly two-hour set, it’s that the material off Paging Mr. Proust fits in alongside material from now classic albums like Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass. In the live setting the band made it clear that the new songs may be more focused on the pop angle than on country, but they capture what The Jayhawks are capable of doing with a group as a whole. Maybe it was the Portland love in the air or the fact that much of their catalogue has stood the test of time, but by the time they left the stage at Revolution Hall on Wednesday, it was clear that The Jayhawks are still very much in their prime.